NBA Live 14 Review: EA’s Air Ball

NBA Live 14 Review: EA's Air BallBelieve it or not, there was once a time that the EA Sports’ NBA Live franchise was the best sports game on the market. In fact, many gamers still rank NBA Live ’95 as one of the greatest sports games ever.

So it pains me to witness EA Sports effectively hit rock bottom with their newest offering, NBA Live 14, 19 years after that incredible release.

NBA Live 14 is a reboot of sorts, after the line was cancelled a few years ago, and all attempts at breathing new life into a EA Sports basketball game with the newly branded NBA Elite failed with repeated cancellations and the threat of taking the series to smartphones only.

This new game, designed from the ground up using EA Sport’s new IGNITE engine, and exclusive to the PS4 and Xbox One, attempts to recapture some of that former glory, but attempts mean nothing. Shaquille O’Neal had plenty of free throw attempts in his career and we all know how that turned out. (For the record, just over 50% for his career, which is terrible by all standards).

NBA Live 14 Review: EA's Air Ball

EA Sports tried for innovation with a new bounceTek dribble system, but by taking the one thing that has no bearing to a game and drilling it down to a complicated science, I feel that resources were wasted in the effort. I am fully aware that skilled players use the dribble to confound defenders, but in a video game, all I want to do is make baskets, get a few steals, grab some tough rebounds and dominate the court. That last thing I care about it using the right stick to dictate how the ball bounces out of my hand.

While bounceTek is a misuse of resources, NBA Live 14 does have some interesting game mode features that we have come to expect from the EA Sports library of games. Ultimate Team, the card-based online fantasy mode is in full swing, as is a dynasty mode that allows players to take a team and build a dynasty over the span of a 25-year career.

Rising Star mode is a player creator that puts user-generated superstars on the court with real-life counterparts. The created player grows with each game, but the mode is bare bones and is as lifeless as the character models that players have created.

NBA Live 14 Review: EA's Air Ball

And that brings me to the worst offense in this game: the look. NBA Live 14 is an ugly game. And not just for the new-gen systems, but the graphics here are last-last gen, meaning PS2/Xbox quality. Player models have zero animations in their ugly faces, and while the artists were able to create basic facial structures on marquee players, like cover star Kyrie Irving, lesser known players are a mess of anonymity. Boris Varejao looks like a cross between Andre The Giant and the Golem from the silent film of the same name (look it up). And EA Sports seemingly traded life-like detail for sweat that adheres to the laws of physics. Great choice there, EA Sports.

Clothing also seems to be a challenge to the artists, as player uniforms don’t hang on bodies naturally and look almost like suits of armor. And don’t get me started on how ridiculous the coaches look on the sidelines. In fact, most of these graphics look as if they were converted from iOS files, which begs to be questioned as the previous NBA Elite games were designed for smartphones and tablets before they were summarily cancelled.

NBA Live 14 tries to recreate the NBA on ESPN experience by using Mike Breen, Jeff van Gundy and Jalen Rose to call games as they unfold, and in the case of Rose, run the pregame and halftime package from “the studio.” Unfortunately, the dialogue is stilted and is never fluid, and it’s very evident that the developers have pieced together sound bytes to try and create a true story, but the differing of inflictions and tones is distracting. And for some reason, the announcers can’t say “LeBron James” without their voices raising a few octaves, even when talking about something as asinine as his morning workout routine. We all know that ESPN as a network caters to James, but to hear it every time his name is mentioned in-game is disgusting.

NBA Live 14 Review: EA's Air Ball

Though NBA Live 14 seems to be heading in the wrong direction with bounceTek and in the ugly, ugly graphics, there are some signs of hope in this package. Taking a page from the Madden NFL series, NBA Live 14 has included Big Moments and NBA Rewind modes as part of their LIVE Season. Big Moments allows the player to take real life game scenarios from this season (2013-14) and replay them to match what happened on the court. Indiana Pacers guard, Lance Stephenson, had 12 points in the fourth quarter earlier this year and Big Moments asks the player to recreate that. You are rewarded with points for meeting the Big Moment goal, and then your results go on a world-wide leaderboard.

NBA Rewind is just that, a perfect recreation of a real-life game, and players are given objectives to meet–like matching a real life player’s performance in that game, or doing everything you can to prevent that performance. These two modes are an excellent addition to the franchise and gives EA Sports a foundation on which to build on.

After years away from the court, EA Sports’ return to glory is an air ball. Ugly graphics, terrible presentation, unnecessary tweaks to simple gameplay mechanics, and an overall lackluster performance makes this game a miss. Save for a few neat features like Big Moments and NBA Rewind–which both are still hindered by the above play control miscues and ugly graphics–NBA Live 14 should start looking at next year’s draft class to try again to build a winner worthy of being on the same court as that other NBA video game, and at least be worthy of the name NBA Live.

NBA Live 14 was played on PlayStation 4 for this review and provided by EA Sports. It was released on November 15, 2013 for PlayStation 4, and on November 22 for Xbox One.

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NBA Live 14 Review: EA's Air Ball

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